Getting to know local government The ins and outs of city zoning

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New zoning restrictions are currently underway to protect property along the top and toe (the bottom or base) of Guttenberg's bluff from becoming unstable. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

The City of Guttenberg uses two distinct boards, the zoning board of adjustment and the planning and zoning commission, to keep abreast of current events and settle zoning issues that arise. The planning and zoning commission makes recommendations to the city council regarding rules and regulations, while the board of adjustment addresses special requests and exceptions to those rules. Major points of the city’s zoning policies include regulation of type of property (commercial, residential, industrial, agricultural, etc.), set-back requirements and height requirements. 

Planning and zoning commission: “The planning and zoning commission reviews zoning issues and makes recommendations to the city council on zoning code revisions. The planning and zoning commission also considers re-zoning requests from property owners, then meets regarding the requests and makes a recommendation to the city council. The city council has to publish notice, send notice to adjacent property owners, hold a public hearing regarding the requested zoning revisions, and make a decision whether they are going to approve any zoning code changes,” explained City Manager Denise Schneider. 

Permission to erect public works of art, buildings, bridges, viaducts, street fixtures or other public structures must be submitted to the planning and zoning commission. All plans, plats, or re-plats of subdivisions within city limits must be reviewed by the commission, and the group also makes recommendations regarding plans for streets, parks, and other public improvements. 

Members of the planning and zoning commission include Kay Bahlmann, J.J. Rochford, Anna Moser, James Eglseder, Donald Herkes, Janette Hansel and Howard Hubbell. Hubbell is in the midst of his second 6-year term. 

“The goal of the commission is to maintain uniformity within the city, have it look good to the public and attract new people to want to move here,” said Hubbell. “One big project underway is to place restrictions on building at the top and toe of the bluff within the city limits of Guttenberg. The restrictions are being currently drawn up by the city attorney and will be addressed by the commission when they are completed.” 

The aim of the new restrictions is to keep material from the top of bluff from coming down on homeowners below, and to prevent future projects from disrupting the bluff by building into the toe, thereby weakening the bluff along the bottom. "The county is starting to do something with all the bluffs and we thought we would go along with what the county is trying to do," said Hubbell.

The planning and zoning commission only meets when a request for a zoning change is made. The party making the request appears before the commission for consideration. The commission makes a recommendation for approval or denial to the city council, which makes the final decision. “In most cases they abide by the commission’s decision,” said Hubbell. “Not all requests by citizens have been approved. The ultimate decision is made with the best interests of the city as a whole in mind, and not at the desire or wishes of the person making the request.”

“Things have run smoothly between the commission, city council and citizens. There is fairly equal representation in gender and commission members have a genuine concern about doing what is fair for the citizens and for the town of Guttenberg,” said Hubbell. “The members of the commission have done a great job of objectively looking at requests and doing what is good for the city.” 

Zoning Board of Adjustments: “The zoning board of adjustment makes decisions regarding variances and special exception requests. A notice is published in the paper regarding the request, notice is sent to adjacent property owners, then the board of adjustment meets to consider the request,” Schneider told The Press. The zoning board includes members Aloysius Troester, Dennis Hanna, Peggy Rausch, Jeff Dolan and Sharol Squiers. Hanna has served two decades on the board. He reports having enjoyed the company of a handful of citizens who are interested in and serious about helping maintain the appearance of the city and the safety of its residents. 

“I think the duties of the board are to see that the rights of the neighbors and town are not infringed upon,” said Hanna. “Our biggest challenge is the size of lots and the lots that have been platted after many or most of the buildings have been built.”

One important duty of the board is to ensure there is space for the fire department to be able to put out a fire without it spreading to the neighboring buildings. “That can be accomplished by following the required distance from the property line,” Hanna told The Press. The board also considers sight lines with structures and signage when considering requests for exceptions to the existing regulations. “A city building inspector to follow up on our decisions would be a big help,” said Hanna.

Like the planning and zoning commission, the zoning board of adjustment only meets when there is a request for an adjustment. A city council representative attends these meetings. To make a request for a zoning change or an adjustment, residents must fill out an application at the city office. 

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